Social workers threaten industrial action if government hands children’s services to independent trust

Sandwell Unison members approve motion that means a ballot will be held if the government makes plans to move children's services outside of council control

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Photo: REX Shuttershock

Social workers in Sandwell could strike if plans to move children’s services into a trust are announced.

Unison members voted unanimously for a motion calling for a ballot on industrial action if the government decides to hand control of the troubled services to an independent trust.

The union will ballot members “as soon as practicable if any transfer of employees is imposed by the government”, the motion said.

In December the government appointed a commissioner, Eleanor Brazil, to oversee improvements in Sandwell’s children’s services. She previously oversaw the transition of Slough and Doncaster children’s services into trusts, and in March will make her recommendations to ministers on what action should be taken.

Nothing ruled out

Brazil was appointed at the same time that David Cameron announced plans to have more services taken over by trusts if they were deemed to be failing. He said if a council cannot show improvement in its children’s services after six months, they would be taken over.

Failing services have been taken over by trusts in Doncaster and Slough, but this is the first time social workers have threatened industrial action.

Asked what form industrial action would take, Tony Barnsley, joint branch secretary at Sandwell Unison, said: “Nothing would be ruled in and nothing would be ruled out. What we’re hoping for is that there isn’t a recommendation to move into a trust and alternative models are explored, which means our members can remain council employees.

“There’s just no theoretical reason or track record as to why moving it into a different type of organisation automatically makes it any better…Our members are desperate to be able to provide a good service for the children,” Barnsley said.

The threat of government intervention in Sandwell follows a string of poor Ofsted reports on the council’s children’s services. Unison said “poor management and leadership over the years” had contributed to the previous three inadequate ratings received by services.

Private sector

While the government may decide to impose a trust model, Unison would prefer that Sandwell was twinned with a good authority to help it improve. It said previous efforts to involve the private sector in turnaround efforts at Sandwell had failed.

“The council has tried to use the private sector by bringing in iMpower to then move the service from ‘adequate’ to ‘good’. This company left Sandwell with £1.5 million [and] an Ofsted judgement of ‘inadequate’,” the motion said.

It also pointed to Doncaster’s experience. The local authority saw its services moved to a children’s trust, only to still be rated ‘inadequate’ last year.

“The creation of a trust means that all future financial risk remains with the trust. The safety net of being part of a council, with its reserves, would be removed,” the motion said.

In a statement, Eleanor Brazil said: “My role as commissioner in Sandwell is to help drive forward improvements and report my findings to the minister by the end of March.

“At this stage it isn’t known whether a trust will be the right future option to deliver improvements in Sandwell.”

Councillor Simon Hackett, Sandwell’s cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We are working hard to make improvements and welcome the appointment of a commissioner who will help us to achieve this.

“But above all our number one priority is to look after children and young people in Sandwell.”

10 Responses to Social workers threaten industrial action if government hands children’s services to independent trust

  1. LongtimeSW February 12, 2016 at 11:52 am #

    First they came for the Junior doctors . . . . . .

    Standing Up For Social Work should also mean Not Standing Up for Privatisation by the back door

    – we are taxpayers too and I WANT my taxes to be spent on public health and social care services NOT filling the pockets of shareholders

    • Louise February 12, 2016 at 2:00 pm #

      So instead people should pay taxes to fill yours and other social services pockets for not doing your jobs correctly.

  2. Gerald February 12, 2016 at 12:33 pm #

    What does Social Services do with under performing Private Sector Providers, they close them down, well why are they everse to applying the same methods to themselves, I wonder ?

  3. Popeye February 12, 2016 at 2:43 pm #

    I’m actually not that afraid by privatisation. But the notion of the NHS remaining free is now in this day and age propesteruous . We should embrace change and anticipate that this government has an agenda that wants to dismantle the NHS whatever they say otherwise in front of the cameras. In a few more years it will be Social Services. We will be looking for new ways of practising whatever the funding platform remember that social services is bound just that little bit more tightly following the NHS and recent laws will see change happen even more quickly, it’s the Domino effect…

  4. Old School February 12, 2016 at 2:48 pm #

    It is an interesting analogy to compare with the Junior Doctors ‘Longtime SW’ and I agree with your comments, however do we really think industrial action will make a difference to this situation. The Junior Doctors have thousands of members who mostly took industrial action effectively in terms of supporting the strike days. What change did their actions bring about – none. Sure, the public are behind them and most people who care about the NHS. The government will likely impose the new contracts anyhow, they simply do not care about public service employees and will at some point bring in private trusts and companies the first chance they get. In social work this is already occurring at every level of the profession. If Sandwell social workers go on strike, agency social workers would be brought in to replace the strikers and the government would use this as an excuse to impose the trust solution.
    We lost the ‘fight’ when the country voted Tory last year, when the damage has been done sadly we will get another chance in 2020 to win the ‘war’.

  5. MS. C. February 12, 2016 at 7:21 pm #

    Privitisation is an inevitable pendulum swing. We need both entities to preserve checks and balances.

  6. mrm February 13, 2016 at 10:01 pm #

    I’ve just left the private sector as a social worker, and I have to say the quality and standards were shocking. A company who profited 36 million of tax pays money last year did very little to raise standards. Unexperienced managers and social,workers trying to deliver services to some of our most vulnerable children and young people…i was shocked by what I experienced and will aim to return to the public sector, you can’t beat the expertise and high standards offered by the public sector and we should not underestimate these groups of professionals and must do everything to support them. The local authorities are not failing, the government is failing them, lets stand together and support to keep our services in house, and out of the private sector who do nothing but count every penny and do all that they can to make profits, seriously I’ve seen it from the inside….

    • Frankie heywood February 17, 2016 at 4:38 pm #

      my social work job in the independent sector ( a medium secure unit) was one of the best I ever had. The unit manager gave me full support and even allowed me to take time off work to attend annual meetings at a number of universities where I was an external examiner for social work degree courses. In a previous LA job, the managers would not allow this and showed no interest at all in my EE role – said it was ‘not relevant’. In contrast, the manager in the independent sector job told me he was proud to have someone with that responsibility on his staff.

  7. Anita Singh February 14, 2016 at 7:21 pm #

    What did we get for our money?. Thatcher ensured the privatising of hospital cleaning services. Result = filthy wards, infected operating theatres, MRSA and hospitals have become filthy breeding grounds for super bugs. Privatised catering services = disgusting food, frozen or out of packets, stingy portions and very poor quality – just what you need when you are ill. The explosion of private fostering agencies = the average in-house foster carer costs £300 – 350 per week per child. The average private agency foster carer costs £800 – 850 per week per child (and that is cheap) Comparison – in-house council foster carers thoroughly vetted, better trained and supervised. So now enter the latest Tory idea of making profit from child abuse, well why not we let them do it with our health?

  8. Grace W February 16, 2016 at 12:34 pm #

    Having worked in private sector, I agree with mrm. The other issue with contracting out services to private companies is that they are not secure. The contract comes up for tender regularly and if the organisation can’t do the job for the lowest price (no guarantee of best service) they lose the contract and it’s the service user & their family who has to cope with the fallout! For many service users, stability is crucial.